Wanaka LandSAR one stop shop
The Wanaka LandSAR team needs about $30,000 a year ‘‘just to stand still’’, the organisation’s fundraiser Phil Melchior said recently.
But standing still is not really something Wanaka LandSAR does.
It has worked on at least 40 operations since June last year and usually conducts between 30 to 50 a year.
The Mt Aspiring National Park is on the doorstep. It’s an outdoors adventure mecca that’s claimed the lives of 47 people since 2002.
A recent open day at the new $400,000 purpose-built building on Ballantyne Rd was the first chance for the public to see the incident control room and inspect the gear used for everything from swift river rescues to helicopter strop lifts.
Wanaka LandSAR chairman Paul Marshall is a former Dunedin-ite who has worked for much of his career in the police force in Auckland.
He moved back south a few years ago and is good mates with Wanaka’s police search and rescue co-ordinator Sergeant Aaron Nicholson, who worked under Marshall in Auckland a long time ago.
Marshall says Wanaka’s new building is a ‘‘benchmark’’ for a volunteer organisation and had amazed visitors.
‘‘But now we have running costs that we’ve not had before. The non-sexy stuff, rates, insurance, power . . . So we would love to talk to anyone who can help out,’’ he said.
One suggestion now being explored is a Friends of Wanaka LandSAR scheme. However, Marshall believes it is unlikely the group will ever become a Government-funded team, similar to one at Aoraki-Mt Cook.
Queenstown’s alpine cliff rescue team is presently lobbying along those lines but Marshall is pragmatic.
‘‘Who are you going to ring when your husband is overdue? The police. No-one ever rings LandSAR,’’ he said.
There was no denying the resources the police brought to LandSAR groups, such as computer technology, contacts and administration skills for things like coronial enquiries. The police also funded things like helicopters and some fuel expenses.
Aoraki-Mt Cook, with its extremely technical terrain, is a special case, he says.
‘‘Mt Cook, clearly there is no question they need a fulltime hard core group. I know Queenstown has been talking about that for a long time. It would be nice for Wanaka too.
‘‘But I would argue you would only need to have one full-timer in Wanaka and Queenstown. Even then, funding would be an issue,’’ he said.
Nevertheless, Wanaka’s outfit is professional, in skills, training, attitude and equipment. Many volunteers work as fulltime river or mountain guides, while others are experienced recreationalists working in other industries.
Several are ‘‘phec-trained’’ – meaning they can offer prehospital emergency care in the field.
The gear room – and before we continue much further, Marshall stresses it is alarmed – is full. First aid gear and ropes are packed into dry bags, ready to go. ‘‘Rat packs’’ of dried food can also be shoved straight into bags, along with drink bottles and cookers.
There are full dry suits, pants, thermal tops, rain coats, gaters, gloves, helmets, shovels, ice axes, crampons, back packs, fire extinguishers, beacons. And there are lots of radios, a spare field repeater (a permanent repeater is on a mast on Little Mt Maude) and even aWandatrak receiver.
This last piece of equipment is new and used to search for a person wearing a special watch or pendant. Marshall explains that person might be autistic or suffering from a dementia-related condition.
‘‘I can see it being used more often here. There’s one person in Wanaka who has one already. We are very lucky to have it,’’ Marshall said.
Just off the gear room is a small kitchen, sporting an eight burner barbecue. There is also a shower and toilet.
Marshall says the whole room has been built around the concept searchers don’t have to go home and find their own gear.
As soon as they are paged they come to the building for a briefing, get changed, grab gear and go.
Marshall loves that the team is totally self-sufficient.
‘‘When the end of the world begins, I amcoming here. There could be standing room only, but I will be here.’’
The building’s second room is dedicated to incident control and here volunteer Jean Kenney can often be found. Kenney’s usual job is to keep tabs on field teams, take messages and make notes in the log.
There is one central large table with eight chairs around it, three booths for private telephone calls and a separate desk where the radio operator sits.
Marshall jokes he is old school and prefers to use paper while Kenney types everything straight into a lap top.
‘‘But the good thing is, we can run everything from a piece of paper, if for example we are in a shed in the middle of nowhere,’’ Kenney said.
Planning is done by the coordinator, usually Nicholson, who records information and makes notes across five large whiteboards. A ‘‘Two Touch’’ screen and Epson projector is used to display maps and helicopters are tracked on three large television screens, using the Tracplus system. Because of the mountainous terrain around Wanaka, 95 per cent of the team’s work relies on choppers.
As soon as the Wanaka team is mobilised – either by the police or the Rescue Co- ordination Centre of New Zealand in Wellington – the incident management team come to the building to work out what type of response is needed.
Sometimes just two or three people might be needed. But sometimes, a rescue – or multiple rescues at once – has required resources from across the three field teams: water rescue, alpine- cliff rescue and sub-alpine.
No searchers go out the door until they’ve an OSH briefing on hazards, how to prevent more tragedies and what to do if Wanaka LandSAR has its own accident.
‘‘Touch wood,’’ Marshall says, patting the crisp alpine ply lining of the incident control room ‘‘noone yet has got injured.’’
Wanaka LandSAR volunteers Jean Kenney and Paul Marshall inside the organisation’s incident control room.
Important communications equipment.